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Is it Allergies or Sinusitis?

When your nose is stuffed, your first concern may be breathing easier, not identifying the cause of your condition. However, there’s more than one cause of nasal inflammation. Sometimes, as with a cold virus, you must simply weather the storm, treating symptoms as best you can. When allergies are the culprit, you may have more options.


Viral or bacterial infections cause this condition. Acute sinusitis is perhaps the form you’re most familiar with since it’s the type of infection that accompanies a cold. Sometimes, nasal inflammations can last longer than 12 weeks. Then, the condition is called chronic sinusitis, and it may be due to a combination of infection and narrow sinus pathways.    

You experience similar symptoms in both cases. Yellow or green mucus discharges from your nose, down the back of your throat, or both. Your face can become tender around your eyes, nose, cheeks, and forehead from the pressure of congestion.

Things may not taste or smell the same. Your ears may also feel plugged, potentially affecting your hearing and balance. You could have a fever and overall aches. You may tire easily or develop a cough.


The congestion of sinusitis may be quite similar when your nasal passage swelling is caused by allergies, typically a type called hay fever. Since the most obvious symptom is also congestion, it is easy to confuse allergies with a cold or with chronic sinusitis.

Sometimes, there are other symptom clues that reveal your stuffy nose is more likely from allergies. These include things such as sneezing and red eyes. The roof of your mouth and nose can feel itchy. Medically this is called allergic rhinitis rather than sinusitis, even though the stuffy or runny nose may be similar. The itchiness symptoms typically distinguish allergies from colds.

Allergies result from an immune system reaction to allergens, substances to which you’re allergic. Your body releases histamines, chemicals that fight the allergens, but which also causes the respiratory symptoms you experience.

Treating each condition

Just as there are similarities and differences in the symptoms, treatments also overlap. Over-the-counter decongestants may help the symptoms of both sinusitis and allergies, breaking up mucus and helping you breathe better.

Allergies often respond well to nasal steroid sprays.  These decrease the inflammation that underlies the stuffy and runny nose that is so bothersome.  You can also use a class of drugs called antihistamines. These counteract the effects of the histamine overproduction that’s behind your allergic reactions. Some antihistamines are combined with decongestants, so you may need only one medication to reduce most symptoms. 

If your allergies are identified, allergy shots can help moderate your histamine response to allergens, helping prevent attacks.

Remedies for symptoms of early acute sinusitis are similar to the remedies for a cold. Rest and plenty of fluids are the principal recommendations. If you also have allergies for which you take medications, continue to use these as you normally would. They won’t relieve sinusitis symptoms, but they may prevent an allergic condition from adding to your misery.

When symptoms of a cold or sinusitis last longer than a week or are associated with high fever or severe headache, it’s time to contact Lawrence Otolaryngology Associates. You may need an antibiotic to cure the infection.

In rare cases, chronic sinusitis may require surgery to widen sinus passages and enable the drainage needed to clear up lingering infections. Any time you have difficulty breathing that goes beyond the scope of home care, it’s time to contact Lawrence Otolaryngology Associates, skilled professionals who specialize in ear, nose, and throat disorders.

Call the most convenient office to schedule your examination. Your specialist caregiver can confirm what’s behind your congestion and advise you on suitable treatment. You can also send the team a message here on their website. Now is the time to breathe easier. 

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